Over the last decade, South African company Robertson and Caine has become one of the world’s leading multihull builders, thanks in no small part to its association with charter companies The Moorings and Sunsail. For many years it has produced boats under two names—its own Leopard brand name, and that of the Moorings. The latest cat to emerge from this busy company is the Leopard 38, aka the Sunsail 384. We sailed the Sunsail version of the boat, so we will refer to it as the 384.
Like its larger siblings, the 384 was designed by the Californian partnership of Morrelli & Melvin. With boats like the record-setting Playstation and a host of other high-performing multis to their credit, it’s obvious that M&M know how to make cats go fast. Making a production cruising cat go fast is another matter entirely. They’ve given it their best shot, with hull lines refined to generate more lift and less drag, a “step” in the topsides that increases volume where it’s needed for furniture and elbow room, and a rig that is generous for a cruising cat. They have also done their utmost to trim excess, speed-killing weight.
The hulls and deck are balsa-cored, reverting to solid laminate below the waterline. Furniture is assembled on molded trays, which are then craned into the hulls and bonded into place. Bulkheads are tabbed to the hull sides and bonded to the deck, which fits over the hull shoebox-style. In line with current boatbuilding trends the deck and hull are glued but not bolted together; the strength of the adhesive is adequate and the result is an extremely stiff boat.
We chartered a Sunsail 384 for a week in the British Virgin Islands. A low pressure system squatting a couple of hundred miles out in the Atlantic brought us unusually blustery northerly winds, often blowing around 15-20 knots and gusting to 30 and above. In other words, we were glad we were on a catamaran.
The boat has a decent amount of working sail area, and the full-batten main is heavy enough that you are grateful for the 2:1 halyard purchase and low-friction Rutgerson luff cars.
Alternating between full main and one reef, and with full working jib, the 384 routinely achieved speeds in the 7s and sometimes 8s. The sea state was rough enough to make gauging tacking angles a pointless exercise—you wouldn’t expect anything under 100 degrees in those circumstances—but I was pleased with the feel of the helm, which had greater feedback than many other cats I’ve sailed. On and off the wind, the boat ran as if on rails, and the autopilot had little work to do.
Halyards are on the mast, but the other sail controls lead back to a pair of Harken 44s on the cabintop via a bank of Spinlock clutches. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the layout and developed a routine, you’ll find the 384 extremely easy to sail singlehanded. Sightlines from the helm station are very good, and the high-clewed jib has only the smallest of blind spots. The traveler is on the hardtop, and the sheet leads are well inboard on the cabintop, away from careless fingers.
As you’d expect, there is an abundance of lounging space. There’s room to stretch out on the cockpit benches, which are sheltered by the hardtop. You could also take 40 winks on the cabintop, though the trampoline was the favored place for the crew, whether under sail or at anchor. Side decks are wide, and coupled with the grab handles on the tall cabintop they make the passage forward and aft a safe and easy one.
The capacious bow lockers are dominated by the large water tanks but there is still room for plenty of cruising gear along with the fenders, windlass and chain. The cockpit contains two large lockers, which are occupied by the liferaft and batteries.
Even in a comparatively small cat like this there is plenty of space to play with and the designers have used it wisely. The four sleeping cabins are all well sized and have an airy feel, thanks partly to the large hull ports. Headroom is more than adequate throughout. The three-cabin version, in which the starboard hull becomes an owner’s suite, should be deservedly popular with this market.
The heads/shower compartments are as big as they need to be and are easy to keep clean. Even with two teenagers on board, we did not manage to go through all the water during the week.
By doing away with the trademark Leopard “bleachers” and sloping forward portlights, M&M have gained extra room in the saloon. This has allowed them to push the settee forward to make enough room for the U-shaped galley. Not only is it well equipped with stowage and counter space, but it is extremely functional for cooking in almost any conditions. The cook must walk around the counter to get at the excellent two-drawer Vitrifrigo fridge/freezer, but that is a fair trade-off.
Interior styling is subdued but pleasant, and the trim and moldings are well fitted. The systems are all well installed, and the twin engines mean that batteries are quickly charged. The 384 also has a 60 watt solar panel on the cabintop, which no doubt helped keep the fridge cold.
The 30hp Yanmar diesels, running fixed props on saildrive legs, started easily and ran smoothly. Access to them is good via hatches on the sterns. Maneuverability is excellent, once you’ve mastered the tricks you can do with two engines spaced so far apart. Under power, the boat made an easy 7 knots at cruising revolutions in flat conditions.
No matter which version you choose—three-cabin or four-cabin—this is a strong addition to the Leopard line. It’s roomy, sails well, is easy to handle and provides yet another attractive option in the starter-cat market.
Lacks stowage in cockpit
Mainsail heavy to handle
Headroom:6ft 8in (max)
Berths:6ft 8in x 5ft 2in (fwd), 6ft 8in x 4ft 11in (aft)
LOA: 37ft 6in
Beam: 19ft 9in
Draft: 3ft 5in
Sail Area: 931sq ft (100% FT)
Fuel/Water/Waste (GAL): 92/206/30
Engine: 2 x 19hp Yanmar
Electrical: 3 x 210AH (384)
Designer: Morrelli & Melvin
Builder: Leopard Catamarans, Cape Town, South Africa, leopardcatamarans.com
U.S. Sales:Lauderdale Marine Center, 877-795-4389; Sunsail, 800-817-0807
Price: $349,000 fully equipped, delivered to Tortola, BVI
Sail Area Displacement Ratio: 20
Displacement-Length Ratio: 189